Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Dec 2002 : Column 293—continued

5.31 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): I should like to add my tribute to the contribution that Sir William has made to the affairs of the House of Commons. I wondered earlier today what key qualities the Clerk of the House and, indeed, an official who advises the occupants of the Chair should have. I thought that those qualities were probably honesty, intelligence and fairness, and Sir William has all those qualities. Those are among the reasons why he made such a valuable contribution to the affairs of the House for more than 40 years, as we were reminded by the Leader of the House. That is a tremendous contribution.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 294

I met Sir William when he was the Clerk to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in the early 1970s. He will probably remember an excellent report that the Committee produced after conducting an investigation into something called land resource use in Scotland—an issue that still causes a great deal of interest, but now in the other Parliament, of course, in Edinburgh. It was a pleasure to meet him.

Although I have not had a lot of contact with Sir William since then, I have clearly taken an interest in his career primarily, I suppose, because he comes from Leith. As some hon. Members will know, I have had the privilege of representing Leith—or perhaps I had better say part of the greater Leith area—for quite a few years. You will understand, Mr. Speaker, that I have to be careful about the geography.

It is excellent that we have had the benefit of Sir William's contribution. I was aware that he was retiring to the north-east of Scotland, but I had not realised that he had gained a chair at Aberdeen university. I am sure that that is good news because it means that his talents will be deployed to the benefit of not just Aberdeen university but the wider Scottish, United Kingdom and world community.

5.33 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I am delighted to associate my colleagues and myself with the motion and to echo the tributes that have been paid today to Sir William McKay. Reference has been made to his length of service, to his scholarly research and interests and to his publications. Indeed, we have heard quotations from them during the debate. Of course, we have heard a most interesting contribution from the Father of the House himself. Reference has also been made to the changes that have been introduced during Sir William's time. Those changes have been considerable and a great deal of additional information and assistance has been made available to hon. Members. That is especially important. I noted in particular the introduction in 2001 of induction courses for new Members. I was tempted to say that my hon. Friends the Members for North Down (Lady Hermon) and for South Antrim (David Burnside), who are both here today and entered the House in 2001, benefited from them, but I took the precaution of checking with them beforehand and I regret to say that as traditionalists—all Ulster Unionists are traditionalists—they preferred to rely on traditional methods of acquiring information about the House and did not essay the new courses; but that does not mean that they are not a valuable introduction to the House.

The services provided by Sir William, as Clerk of the House, and the people whom he directs are important, especially for members of small parties. Without the resources that other parties have, we depend very much on the Officers of the House and the services provided by the House, and very much appreciate the way in which Sir William has managed them over the years. I was encouraged and reassured about the breadth and wealth of his interests when I saw him in a certain place where one repairs for a liberal cup of refreshment reading newspapers printed in the island of Ireland.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 295

As Clerk of the House, Sir William occupied what H.A.L. Fisher described as

As the Leader of the House hinted, he may be relying on a much more inferior box at the moment, but whatever he is relying on, he and his wife have the best wishes of my colleagues and me for the future.

5.36 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Most Members will not be aware of one activity with which Bill McKay was associated. He was the first British Clerk of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. Before our first meeting in early 1990, rules drawn up by Bill McKay and his Irish counterpart, Paddy Judge, were established and approved. In the 12 years since, they have come in very handy indeed in meetings between British and Irish parliamentarians. However, some of us with a suspicious turn of mind think that when the two Clerks were drawing up the rules they did so, to some extent, to keep the politicians in check. From time to time, when we wanted to do something, we were told to look at the rules but, at the same time, the Clerks were pretty flexible.

On behalf of the British and Irish members of that body, I should like to put on record our tribute to Bill McKay for doing so much to make the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body a success. I am sure that my Irish colleagues will be interested in the tributes paid to him today.


Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): It is with great pleasure that I associate my colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party with all the tributes to Sir William McKay.

I am not the first Scot to speak in this debate, but I am the first Scot to speak about one of his constituents. Indeed, I am the first Scot ever to do so because, as we know from Sir William's history of the Clerks of the House, he is the first Scottish Clerk of the House. I was therefore surprised that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested that there was some kind of tartan stranglehold over the key Officers of the House. A quota of one Scot in 650 years, or 300 years since the treaty of union, is not an overabundance of people of our nationality holding the post of Clerk of the House.

Bill McKay provides us with a clue to something that has fascinated many hon. Members. Why do the Clerks of the House—Bill, Roger and their colleagues—remain inscrutable, regarding our proceedings with equanimity without a shake or nod of the head and only the occasional raised eyebrow? I have the answer in Bill's case—he has balanced his time in this frenetic den of iniquity by commuting every week for the past few years from the village of Aberchirder, known locally as Foggieloan or Foggie, in the beautiful countryside of Banffshire. Before that, he balanced his time in London with building crofts on the island of Coll. I recommend to hon. Members who get caught up in this overcrowded corner of the country that they, too, should live in the

11 Dec 2002 : Column 296

beautiful Banffshire countryside and take the same balanced view of life as we have seen from Bill McKay over the past few years.

As has been said, Bill McKay almost became the Clerk of the Scots Parliament in the late 1970s. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rather deftly waltzed his way round the fact that he did his level best to deprive Bill of having a job at that time. However, Bill was ensconced in Edinburgh preparing for the Parliament in 1978, and I am happy to say that the sterling spadework that was done by Bill in that period has no doubt been put to good use 20 years later. The hon. Member for Linlithgow was thus defied in his ambition.

I note that Bill is to be a professor at Aberdeen university. Indeed, Bill's wife is one of the pillars of the Buchan presbytery. I congratulate Bill on his retirement, but it is not really a retirement. Freed from all the bounds of impartiality that are required of the Clerk of the House, who knows on what issues of the day Bill might want to enter into public debate—top-up fees in the university, perhaps? For my part, I shall prepare for my surgeries in Foggieloan with considerable care, never knowing who might appear and demand an answer on the issues of the day.

I have one final remark. When Members come to the House, they often believe that the Clerks and the machinery of the House are somehow an adjunct of the Government or the Executive—[Interruption.] I see those on the Government Front Bench collapsing. New Members realise, however, that the staff of the House are there to serve the House, and do so very ably. I can say from personal experience that with the sole exception that the Leader of the House managed to identify, Bill McKay has unfailingly provided advice to Members in all parts of the House. Sometimes I took Bill's advice; sometimes I did not. I usually benefited from the advice and regretted it when I did not take it. For all Members of the House, his advice was always courteous, always informed and always practical. For that we should all thank him indeed. His has been a lifetime of outstanding service, and in every sense we are congratulating the real McKay.

5.42 pm

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): Following the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), I support the motion. I do so as a founder member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—I am grateful for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick)—as a vice-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and also as a member of the House of Commons Commission.

I was in the City not long ago having one of those lunches or dinners to which we often have to apply ourselves. I sat next to a lady of a certain age and told her who I was and what I was, and she said, XOh, I used to work in the House of Commons." I asked how long ago that was. She said, XForty years." I said, XForty years is a long time to go back. Whom did you work for?" She replied, XBill McKay". I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for mentioning the fact that Bill McKay came to the House in 1961 and has given 40 years of dedicated public service, unsung, unremarked but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North said, with great prestige and great influence.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 297

I have seen this, as vice-chairman of the IPU, at international conferences that I attended with Bill. He did not attend the last conference in Moscow; he broke a leg. I thought that Moscow was a wonderful place to go to, and that it was taking matters a little too far to break a leg so as not to be on that trip. But Bill was unable to go, and we had to manage without him.

Parliamentary occasions such as this bring the House together. All of us in all parts of the House can come together and recognise the role that we play in public life and the role that has been played behind the scenes for us. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who spoke for the Liberal party, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House spoke about the role that Bill has played recently as chief executive. That is a new and significant role, which he has played because he is a parliamentarian himself. He understands 659 Members of Parliament with their foibles, their egoism and their impatience. He has brought us all together, and that again is a role that is entirely unsung and for which he should take a great deal of credit.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) mentioned that William McKay might wish to write his comparative parliamentary scenarios. That would be useful, but I hope that we are not encouraging him to write his memoirs. If we were to do that, we would all have to hunker down and hope for the best. But I know that he will not do that. Clifford Boulton, his predecessor but one, who was referred to by the Leader of the House, did not do that.

My final remark, and the only remark that I can think of, in relation to William McKay, and for his wife too, is that

The House of Commons will long remember him, even in his retirement.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 298

Next Section

IndexHome Page